Kishu Lacquer

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Wooden products entirely covered with lacquer are the most common kind one sees on the market. However, Kishu lacquer leaves several spots unvarnished.

Around the 14th to 16th century, local woodworkers began making rice bowls coated with black lacquer. During this time, Buddhist monks in Negoroji temple had also been making their own lacquered objects, such as chopsticks, trays, bowls, and others that were used for prayers and mantras. They used black lacquer as the first coat, and added red lacquer on top. Since their craftsmanship was not up to par, some parts of the finished objects often had missing spots.  But it turned out that people actually liked this unintended look! This particular style of coating was thus designated as Negoro lacquer.

In 1590, the famed warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who had been ruling over Japan, invaded Negoro. The monks managed to escape, and began settling in Kainan city, the west of Negoro. Thereafter, Negoro lacquer began flourishing around the 17th century under the support of the regional Kishu lordship. Later in the 19th century, a method was introduced of decorating a lacquered surface by painting pictures and applying gold powders. These objects were traded in Nagasaki and Kobe and continued to evolve throughout the 20th century. In 1978, Kishu Lacquer was recognized as one of the Traditional Handcrafts of Japan.

Kishu Lacquer had amateurish appearances during its beginnings. However, it has changed over the centuries. Nowadays, it has a great variety of styles and designs. Kuroe in Kainan city is the center of Kishu Lacquer production, with a tourist information center, a museum and others promoting the artform. Many tourists including large groups come to the city every year. The Kishu Lacquer Festival held in November each year attracts 50,000-70,000 tourists over a period of two days. This is the largest scale event of this kind in West Japan, and a great opportunity to see a wonderful array of Kishu Lacquer wares on display.

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